This is not the first time I've seen Wes at the bench. He is a hands-on manager, and just the kind of guy who can tell me about the new shotgun that the company will introduce in January. The shotgun, called the Apex, will break ground in engineering and cosmetics for mid-priced shotguns.
The Apex will hit the market at the same time that Caesar Guerini makes a big push into custom work for its line of sporting, field and trap guns. As a metaphor you could say that the Apex is the climax of the first chapter in the Caesar Guerini story. As the company begins the next chapter, it will marry mid-priced fine Italian shotguns with the services of premium shotgun manufacturers such as Krieghoff, Griffin & Howe's own branded shotguns and the A. Galazan over-and-unders.
My visit to Caesar Guerini started with Wes giving me a tour of the newly expanded facility. From the outside, you would never know that Caesar Guerini is one of the most successful stories in the shotgun industry in recent years. The company is housed in a nondescript brick building with no signage on a narrow street of mixed residential and commercial buildings.
The New Space
Even when you first step inside, the modest quarters belie the phenomenal growth of the company. But then Wes pushes open a door and suddenly I'm in an expansive area of raw space that will house the custom shop, state-of-the-art inventory warehouse and the offices of the people who will manage the new wing; it really is like a revelation.
By adding about 6,500-square feet, Caesar Guerini will triple its footprint in Cambridge, Maryland. During my tour, a construction crew was applying finishing touches, before the custom benches, woodworking equipment and computers are moved in. It would be just a matter of weeks.
Wes Wants You to be Happy
Wes is a tall guy, and combined with his enthusiasm, I had trouble keeping up with him as he pointed here and there. We went through every room, and he showed me exactly where each new piece of equipment would be installed. Time and again, Wes hammered home the point that he wants Caesar Guerini customers to be happy with their guns. He also wants his employees to be happy at their jobs. He just wants everybody to be happy.
It's easy to be skeptical and think that it's all about the money (Wes is after all a capitalist), until you see him actually filing the barrels of a customer's shotgun.
And further, I can attest first-hand that Wes is customer-first when I bought my Magnus 20-28 gauge combo a few years ago. My dealer of choice is Jack Bart, of Bart's Sports World in Glen Burnie, Maryland. In my first trip to the Caesar Guerini facility, Jack drove me down to the factory. Wes must have spent close to an hour going through all the stocks and fore-ends to make sure that I got the light-wood I wanted and that the fore-ends matched. And then, when my 20-gauge fore-end chipped, Wes went to great lengths to make sure that the new replacement matched the unusually light stock.
From my perspective, the custom shop really is an extension of how Wes treats his customers. It's the kind of service you expect from manufacturers who charge much, much more for their shotguns.
When the custom shop starts operation in the coming weeks, you'll be able to mix-and-match any barrel, stock and engraving pattern on an individualized, reasonably priced shotgun. Stocks will be custom made through dimensions provided by stock fitters, dealers or via a form that can be submitted to the company.
In retrospect, Caesar Guerini initially put the custom program in place when it initially brought on John Skinner, who was the chief gunsmith for 30 years at Orvis, nearly a year ago.
Details of the Apex
The push into individualized guns coincides with new equipment and engineering Caesar Guerini owners will first see the fruits of in the forthcoming Apex.
Price-wise, the Apex will fall between the $5,200 Maxim and the $7,995 Forum. Striving for that best-gun appearance, the Apex will benefit from three different types of engraving techniques that break new ground for Caesar Guerini. By combining laser, EDM (electrical discharge machine) and hand tools, the Apex will feature patterns of greater intricacy and depth than seen on previous shotguns from the company -- features that will also carry onto the Forum and custom consignments.
Although Caesar Guerini will work with several Italian engravers, the primary artisans will be Botegga Incisioni C. Giovanelli, in the legendary Brescia region. The celebrated engraver is known for its Bulino-style hunting scenes, landscapes and scrolls -- many of them new designs that will be available through Caesar Guerini's personalized shotguns.
With the inception of the customized shotgun program, you could easily say that this new chapter in the annals of Caesar Guerini is an affirmation of the company's raison d'être: to manufacture fine Italian shotguns for American shooters.
The Italian Connection
The management team works closely to achieve that mission. Wes has a long, successful career in shotgun marketing here in the U.S. His partners in Italy, Giorgio and Antonio Guerini, come from a family of shotgun makers. Their uncle is Battista Rizzini, who has been making quality shotguns since 1965 in the Gardone region.
The firm of F. lli Rizzini is headed up by Guido Rizzini. Also, in the Gardone region, this faction of the Rizinni clan produces only 25 guns a year, each a one-off masterpiece.
Last but not least is Emilio Rizzini, who produces mass-market shotguns. Emilio's shot guns are now made by Fausti Stefano.
The Rizzinis are also related to the Fausti family of gunmakers, whose breakthrough print ads of the three Fausti women caused quite a sensation among men with shotguns (they are often sought out for autographs at shotgun shows).
Wes clearly acknowledges that many of the engineering breakthroughs on Caesar Guerinis come from Antonio Guerini.
The British Influence
As I stand over Wes' shoulder in his office, he navigates his PC to illustrate the technical innovations of the Apex, which can also be ordered on other Guerini models through the new custom program.
For example, the Apex will feature a long, graceful trigger guard that is incorporated into the end cap for a flowing, seamless appearance that has no screws. It will appear as a single, integrated piece to enhance the elegance of the Apex. Wes attributed this cosmetic distinction to a lot of technical elbow grease expended in the Italian factory.
Although he didn't have a sample or renderings in his office at the time, he went to the Purdey web site, where he showed me how it will look on the pinnacle of bespoke British shotguns.
Other British inspirations on the Apex menu include a rounded fore-end and round knob pistol grip.
The Apex will lead the way for the introduction of higher grade walnut and chequering.
New Kinetic Balancer
On the engineering side, introduction of the Apex will coincide with a new device the company has developed called a kinetic balancer. It's a combination of adjustable weight and recoil reducer that fits in the stock. In effect, counter weights can be screwed up and down a threaded shaft to strike the perfect balance. While some other shotguns offer this, Caesar Guerini has also included a recoil reducer.
The kinetic balancer will only be available on target guns. It can be retrofitted as well for current owners. Wes explained that the kinetic balancer is really part of the Dynamic Tuning System (DTS).
Overall, the DTS enables the gun to adapt their natural shooting style to the shotgun. The DTS rib allows the point-of-impact to be adjusted from an industry leading 60/40 to 120%. The rib adjustment is made by simply turning an elevation wheel. The DTS comb allows for the fine tuning of offset, cast, comb height, and comb drop.
If you want to get a first look at the Apex, you'll have to attend the industry SHOT Show, held this year in Orlando, Florida, January 15-18, 2009. Or you may want to give your local dealer a call to see when they're scheduled to take delivery.
Irwin Greenstein is publisher of Shotgun Life.